The way Rep. Rachel Jones sees it, once you’ve paid off your house you shouldn’t have to worry about property taxes.
But the first-term Republican lawmaker from Tucson acknowledged there are a bunch of practical questions with her legislation, including who would — or should — get a tax break. And she said her plan is probably going to need some major amendments to get any traction.
Jones, however, said she decided to swing for the fences and start out asking for everything, figuring that gives her lots of negotiating room.
“You go big,” she told Capitol Media Services.
Some of it, Jones said, is philosophical.
“It’s awful that you’re charged taxes on something you own,” she said. Jones said that would be like buying a couch, paying the sales taxes and then having to pay some sort of fee for possessing it.
But she said her focus actually is narrower.
“My main heart issue behind it are those, especially elderly folks who are on a fixed income, who lose their homes,” Jones said.
“I just talked with a constituent whose uncle lost his home last year because of this very issue,” she continued. “That’s just unacceptable.”
Only thing is, her HB 2315 does not have any sort of “means testing.” And she acknowledged that means anyone who pays off a mortgage at any age — or even has the resources to buy a house for cash — would be entitled to escape all property taxes if her measure were to become law as written.
“That is one thing I don’t like about it, especially with all the Californians moving in,” Jones said, people with money who can buy a house outright, with no mortgage. “That’s not ultimately my ‘mission accomplished’ at all.”
And there’s a related issue.
Some elderly will take out a “reverse mortgage,” using the equity in their paid-off homes to be able to stay there and pay other bills. And as HB 2315 is crafted, those people would go from paying no property taxes at all to once again having an annual bill.
Jones also said she wants to be careful not to harm local governments which, unlike the state, are heavily dependent on property taxes. And schools depend on locally raised taxes for budget overrides and paying off the bonds to build new schools.
“I understand how much property taxes go to police, education, all those things,” she said.
There might not be any net loss of revenues.
Most levels of government figure out how much they need to raise. Then they divide it into the total assessed valuation of the community.
The result is a tax rate.
But here’s the thing.
If some property is removed from the tax rolls, that reduces the total assessed valuation. So, the calculation divides the amount of money to be raised into that smaller base.
And that, in turn, raises the tax rate that is imposed on everyone else who is not exempt from paying taxes — meaning the taxes not being paid by those with paid-off homes is shifted to them.
Jones said House research staff is crunching some numbers to figure out what that shift might be.
“I’m hoping to have a full, big compilation of all of that this week,” she said.
Jones said, though that she sees another side of that.
“There are a lot of renters in Tucson currently,” she said.
“It’s becoming a big rental market,” Jones continued. “I don’t particularly like that people that are renting homes aren’t contributing to their community, either.”
She said altering that could “kind of take some of the pressure off” of homeowners.
Jones acknowledged, though, that renters may not be getting an entirely free ride.
That is because the landlords — the people who own the homes and apartments — are themselves paying property taxes. And that is something they can pass on to tenants.
There is another unanswered question in HB 2315.
As crafted, it would exempt those without mortgages from paying any property taxes at all. That includes not just the basic levies to operate government but also the taxes that people voted to impose on themselves, such as overrides, bond debt and even special districts for everything from fire protection to streetlights.
And what that would mean is people who are exempt from taxes being able to approve new levies that affect everyone else.
“That’s a really good question,” Jones said, saying she’s going to have to think about that issue as her bill goes through the legislative process. And the senator said she is a big fan of voter approval of taxes “because that’s the best way to get people’s opinion on something.”
How much Arizona homeowners might save if Jones’ bill were to become law depends on both the value of the home and where they live.
It starts with the full cash value, a figure roughly equal to about 80% of its market value. And owner-occupied homes are assessed for tax purposes at 10% of that value.
So, a home valued by assessors at $350,000 has its property taxes computed based on $35,000. And assuming a tax rate of $9 per $100 of assessed valuation, that computes out to about $3,150 a year.
But the tax rate can vary, with the state Department of Revenue pegging the figure at anywhere from $3.39 in Greenlee County, which has the benefit of a copper mine to bolster its revenues despite a low tax rate, to $13.81 in Pima County.
And these figures also vary within counties depending on taxes imposed by cities, schools and other special districts.
No date has been set for a hearing on her measure.
Average property tax rates by county per $100 assessed value in 2022:
Apache — $6.96
Cochise — $12.02
Coconino — $8.56
Gila — $12.94
Graham — $9.49
Greenlee — $3.39
La Paz — $10.81
Maricopa — $10.82
Mohave — $9.69
Navajo — $10.09
Pima — $13.81
Pinal — $13.58
Santa Cruz — $13.66
Yavapai — $9.17
Yuma — $12.19
— Source: Arizona Department of Revenue